MOSCOW – For anyone who braves the Russian winter, overcast skies and short, dark days are a depressing reality.
But even those bleak expectations were shattered in December, when Moscow was shrouded in an unrelenting cloud cover for all but six minutes.
It was the darkest December in the capital since the city began recording the data, the previous worst having come in 2000, when the sun checked in for a meager three hours.
The average amount of sunlight for December — 18 hours — is hardly anything to write home about.
“When they hear about this, many people say, ‘It’s clear now why I was depressed,’ ” said Roman Vilfand, the head of Russia’s Weather Service, according to the news agency Tass.
Muscovites have any number of reasons to be depressed: a stagnant economy, horrendous traffic and, for some, the prospect that Vladimir Putin will soon win another six-year term as president.
But the dearth of sunlight undoubtedly has contributed to a surge in visits to psychiatrists in Moscow even beyond the expected seasonal rise, the daily newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets reported.
The reports have unleashed a tide of snarky comments on social media.
“And this at a time when the country is rising from its knees and has won the war in Syria …” an anonymous commenter wrote in response to the Moskovsky Komsomolets article.
“Why do you need the sun, if your ‘special path’ is illuminated by the sunfaced Putin,” wrote another.
“Hillary’s revenge,” an American, Steve Lemson, chimed in.
The dismal December followed an unusually cold and wet summer, which also seems to have darkened moods. In June, the Moscow Office for Psychological Assistance recorded a 14 percent rise in calls, compared with those in the same period in 2016.
Vilfand attributed the gloom to warm Atlantic air masses that continually swept over the region with strong, damp winds that thickened the cloud cover. That lifted average December temperatures by nearly 6 degrees.
The people of Yakutia, a region in Russia’s far east, could use a little of that air right now. A cold spell there has approached record levels, with temperatures in some places plummeting to 88 degrees below zero, according to the Siberian Times. Interfax reported that the extreme cold claimed at least two lives over the weekend.
A photo of Anastasia Gruzdeva standing outside in Yakutsk, the regional capital, with frost-covered eyelashes has garnered more than 40,000 “likes” on Instagram.
“This is nothing but a trip to work in -47,” Gruzdeva posted, citing the temperature in Celsius. “Now, every girl in Yakutsk has a photo like this.”
The severe cold is traveling west from Yakutia. In Norilsk, an industrial city in Russia’s Arctic region, the temperature plunged to 49 degrees below zero on Wednesday, with warnings of a further drop to 67 degrees below on Thursday.
None of this will spoil a holiday celebration, however. On Friday, people across Russia will step outside and plunge into ice-cold water for the annual Epiphany dip. In Yakutia, preparations are already underway.